Interview With an Artist: Tom Burns

Earlier this year, Sonoran Brewing Company held a contest for people to design and submit a new logo for their Inebriator Stout, a heavy Russian Imperial Stout weighing in at 9.1%.  Among the submissions was a particular illustration created by local artist Tom Burns.  Inspired by the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos – which is normally depicted with the graphic imagery of sugar skulls and marigolds, Tom decided that a Day of the Dead themed label seemed appropriate for the dark brew.

As Día de los Muertos is celebrated November 1st and 2nd, the release of the stout with the limited edition label created by Burns was announced on November 1st, and a vanilla and oak aged version of the beer was tapped at Chandler Whole Foods for Stout Day on November 4th.  There is another event there this Saturday, November 19th, where Sonoran will be doing a tasting of the Inebriator along with their White Chocolate, Centennial Copper and Gold, and their rare seasonal Pumpkin Spice. With the re-release of the Inebriator in a bottle, and a brand new killer design, a lot of attention was directed toward Sonoran and people started asking questions – When will it be available in stores?  Where can I get it in bottles?  Who’s the artist?

While I could answer with logistics and numbers, I’d much rather introduce you to the man behind the label.  A Q&A with Tom Burns, ladies and gentlemen:

When and how did you first become interested in being an illustrator/graphic designer?
I’ve drawn my whole life, but interest in graphic design and computerized illustration programs began in high school. There was a mac in one of our art classes and it was love at first sight.

What are the most important influences that have moved you as an artist?
I love cultural art, street art, and recently I’ve loved seeing all the concepts art and artists that are out there, so much inspiration! I get influence from music and pop culture too.

Who are your muses?
Other artists, Writers, Director of movies I like, Storytellers in general. Stories create the most inspiration for art I think.

What is your favorite book/who is your favorite author? Favorite music/band? Favorite movie?
Any novel by Kurt Vonnegut. I have always loved the band Tool. Favorite movie has to be a toss up between Shaun of the Dead and Pulp Fiction.

What medium(s) do you like to work with? What others have you experimented with?
I typically use a pencil and pen, then scan and clean up in Illustrator, Photoshop or Corel Draw, depending on what style artwork it is. I have experimented fairly recently with sculpting in super-sculpey, which is fun, but I have a long way to go, haha.

Have you won any awards for any of your designs?
Here and there throughout my life since about high school age, I’ve won a few things. My best claim to fame is probably winning designs on, a t-shirt contest site. I did a design called ‘Communist Party‘ that still gets me work, hah.

How did you become connected with Sonoran?
They had a contest for designing a beer label on their site, so I submitted one.

Why did you decide to design a limited edition label for Sonoran’s Inebriator Stout?
They contacted me after I submitted my design for the contest, and chose mine, then we perfected it from there.

Where did you find the inspiration for the Inebriator Logo?
I love the Dia De Los Muertos imagery, and thought since the label was black, and the beer was nice and dark, it would be a perfect match up.

Have you designed labels for other foods or beverages?
I work as a packaging designer for a paper goods company for a year prior to moving out here to Phoenix, so I had designed for packaging before, but as far as for food or beverages, only for friends’ home breweries. 🙂

Did/do you taste the product before designing for it? Why or why not?
Nope. I actually had seen it on the shelf in Bevmo before, but decided I wanted to taste it first out of a bottle I did the design for, haha.

What is your opinion on microbreweries versus macro breweries? Do you notice a difference in marketing?
I love the microbreweries. To me they are like the ‘mom and pop stores’ for beer folk. I think their marketing abilities are obviously more limited than the big guys, so I try to spread the word, by word of mouth, whenever I can. I recently just sent a few bottles to a brewer friend of mine in TN, so I like that it gets spread around like that.

What is/are your a favorite beer(s)/brewery?
It had been Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, but now I’m leaning more towards Sonoran! 🙂

Do you have any other hobbies or interests that may or may not be related to graphic designing?
I used to be in metal bands and stuff like that as a young adult, but I am more into stuff like trying to make my own comics, or hiking around my neighborhood now in my mid 30s.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future? Do you have any goals you’d like to reach artistically?
I would love a chance to work as a concept artist on something interesting like a film or video game, but that field is so crowded with such talent. We’ll see, I try to be diverse! 🙂

Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of his work in the future; he has some awesome designs on his personal site, Everything Burns, as well as threadless, make sure to check them out and give him some love!


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